Above: The Mighty FrankenHaggis, defeated by myself and my 14 dinner guests over Scotch, wine, and poetry. Huzzah!
On March 5th 2011, I held my very first Robbie Burns’ Night in my home, serving what had been dubbed by my friends as “FrankenHaggis”.
The idea was born at my last DoD, where it was mentioned that a couple of my guests were curious to taste haggis, myself included. Being of Scottish descent – my grandmother hailing from Scotland as a matter of fact – and being the experimental cook I am I felt that I should try making it. My friends and I sat and pondered, deciding that the ingredients should consist of the traditional parts taken from much tastier animals. A few of the ingredients I found a little hard to find, namely the sheep’s stomach. So I improvised by rolling it into a butterflied turkey. More on that later.
Here the term FrankenHaggis was born, and what better way to serve haggis than during a Robbie Burns’ dinner? This is a traditional Scottish holiday honoring the famed poet that is sort of like Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and St. Patrick’s Day rolled into one. Like a FrankenHoliday. Huh, I just may have started something here.
What a terrific night! There was laughter, poetry, and toasts until we were all ready to fall over. My dear friends came bearing flowers and wine, my friend Lori baked these great butterscotch cookies and my friend Andrew had spent the entire day baking bread for the occasion, which I submit must have been sprinkled in crack, because it went like hotcakes.
Photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan
He had also made these great shortbread cookies. My wonderful mother, whom I had wished could have attended had earlier brought over THE shortbread she makes from my grandmother’s recipe. It’s delicious, and the recipe is sacred and unpostable.
As haggis is traditionally served with “neeps” and “tatties”, I made mashed potatoes and then a turnip cheese soup I thought up on the fly, which everyone seemed to love. As I served this, per Burns’ Night norm, I gave everyone The Selkirk Grace:
Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.
Photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan
The soup kept everyone occupied until the moment of truth; when the haggis was ready to come out of the oven.
FrankHaggis, after I had cut the twine off and before I laid the garnishes of turnip greens and potatoes, courtesy of John’s iPhone
Now, this was quite THE moment of the evening, because this was after all haggis. Either everyone was going to love it, or everyone was going to HATE it. As per tradition on Burns’ Night, John cued the bagpipe music to “Scotland The Brave” and I walked the haggis into the dining room on a decorative platter as everyone applauded. Per tradition, I read off Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis”:
Fair full your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!
Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old Master of the house, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.
Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her throw-up
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?
Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He will make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will crop
Like tops of thistle.
You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland want no watery ware,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But is you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!
With a few swipes of my knife, the giant meat creation was being served, and I held my breath as my company took their first bites.
Cries of “This is awesome!” and “I want more!” soon filled the air, MUCH to my relief as I dug in myself. My God, they were right. This haggis was brilliant, and I’m not saying this to be vain. I’m saying it because it’s true. Wow. Those that were too afraid to come were definitely missing something spectacular here. I served this with an apple cider reduction sauce as well as the traditional whiskey cream sauce.
Serving the FrankenHaggis, from John’s iPhone
The dinner table, from John’s iPhone
The dinner table, photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan
Photo courtesy of Andrew Samtoy
After dinner and a brief intermission of smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes on my porch. The poetry toasts began, first by the men toasting the women, then the women toasting the men, and finally by me reading the first poem to kick off things, “The Poet Tree” by Shel Silverstein. As each of my guests had their turn, I very much enjoyed listening to the varying types of poems they had chosen. They ranged from silly to ancient to Oscar Wilde to Robbie Burns (of course) to romantic to self-written and even made up on the spot, each finishing with a toast. Which made us all very toasty with 14 people.
This was a night where I not only learned a brand new and seldom served dish, but I learned so much about each of my guests and how grateful I was to have them there.
Speaking of learning, here is how I came up with the turkey idea, as well as the widely requested recipe for my turnip cheese soup.
Jacques Pepin can butterfly a turkey in roughly 1 minute and 37 seconds. Being one of my culinary inspirations, I watched him gracefully and so swiftly pull the skin off of the bird with the meat still attached, hold it up – perfectly intact – for everyone to see, then lay it down on the counter neatly only to effortlessly wrap it around a ground meat mixture, with his fingers almost instinctively guiding the butcher’s twine around it to hold it into place. Wow!, I thought to myself. That’s a great idea for FrankenHaggis night, and it looks so simple!
It turns out, it takes me roughly 25 minutes and 37 seconds to butterfly a fucking 16lb turkey – meat and juices flying around the kitchen of my apartment as I wrestled, cut, and strong-armed the skin off of my bird. After wrangling the last of the carcass off of the coveted skin, I had…well…what looked like a hot mess plopped down on my counter. Like a horrific crime scene where something went very, very wrong. I cut the rest of the meat that mattered off of the carcass and arranged it in the more meat-bare areas of the skin, and then spread the haggis mixture I had made – ground beef heart, lamb kidney, steel cut oats, garlic, onions, and ground pork – onto said hot mess, after which I proceeded to roll it up, the meat oozing out of the gaping holes in the skin from my amateur cuts, and fumbled messily with the butcher’s twine to wrap it all up.
This whole process took me a good hour to complete, but the end result was more than rewarding. Also, Jacques Pepin is made out of magic sorcery.
The carnage of the turkey up close, taken by John’s iPhone:
The heart and the kidney getting the “bacon fat and butter” treatment in my cast iron skillet:
Who would have thought that these ghastly images could have captured something that when put together was so delicious? I didn’t even get a picture of what the ground lamb kidney looked like, but let me tell you it was not pretty. I speculated that, if my friends had watched this being prepared from beginning to end, they would have opted for take out. I was astounded at how delicious this dish came out, because as I was preparing it I was taking comfort in the fact that Angelo’s delivers.
The turnip soup, however, was not so worrisome. Actually, like the haggis, it was far more well-received than I had expected. So much that I had several requests demanding the recipe.
So here it is. Remember, it was made up on the fly, so the measurements may not be exact.
Turnip Cheese Soup:
6 or 7 turnips, cut into cubes
8oz Sharp Cheddar, grated
8oz Monterey Jack, grated
8oz Colby, grated
1 quart Heavy Cream
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
Sea Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Boil the turnips until soft. Then drain, mash with a masher, and put into a crock pot set on low. In a 2 quart saucepan, melt down 2 tablespoons of the butter and whisk in 1 tbsp of the flour. Then whisk in the heavy cream and let it just get to boiling. Whisk in half of the cheese and stir it continuously until all of it melts. When finished, salt and pepper it, then mix it into the crock pot with the turnips. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, and serve with homemade bacon bits if you like. Which you probably do. It’s bacon, for Christ sake.